Community//

The Forty-Something, White, Male VP

This excerpt is from Catherine Rymsha's recently released book, The Leadership Decision, which focuses on why being a leader is a decision that we are all capable of making. The book further looks at how people define value in leadership and how perception partnered with bias skews who we define as leaders.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.
The Leadership Decision: Decide to Lead Today
The Leadership Decision: Decide to Lead Today

One day, I took a drive to Cape Cod and thought about every piece of my career from my commute to my struggles to my coworkers to my once failed promotion to my future and to my successes. I thought about where I was and where I wanted to go. I thought about the people I worked with and the things that I did. In some ways, I felt proud. I don’t know why on that one afternoon I decided to reassess, but I did. 

In those thoughts, I realized that I had devoted myself and my career to making forty-something, White men who were in corporate leadership roles happy. I let these CEOs dictate how I found value both in myself and my work because of their title as “leader”. 

I gave up my personal life, worked hard, cried, and based my happiness on whether or not these men were happy with my work performance and in my defining my value as a leader and as a person. I don’t think that I’m alone in that. But then I was struck with this thought: How did this happen? 

I gave up my personal life, worked hard, cried, and based my happiness on whether or not these men were happy with my work performance and in my defining my value as a leader and as a person. I don’t think that I’m alone in that. But then I was struck with this thought: How did this happen? 

Once having this realization, I read a lot of career statistics and headlines about the workplace and about gender. These show, as we may already presume, that— 

  • The average CEO age is fifty-six, and the average chief financial officer and chief operating officer is fifty-two. 
  • Only 19 percent of US congressional members, less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and only 2 out of the then-current crop of US presidential candidates are women. 
  • By race, Whites made up the majority of the labor force (79 percent). Blacks and Asians made up an additional 12 percent and 6 percent, respectively. 

In looking at that data, it made sense that I had fallen victim to the attack of this ever-prominent species lurking in the halls and coffee areas of corporate office buildings waiting to unleash their unwelcome feedback about my job performance and life. This also taught me something fundamental about leadership that we fail to address: 

  • Leadership is not an age. 
  • Leadership is not a gender. 
  • Leadership is not an ethnicity. 

Leadership is about people and what they can do. Yet, we follow and judge leaders on age, gender, and ethnicity. 

Regardless of the other leadership books, articles, courses, and the like on the topic, we need to have a reality check. Men hire other men who are like them and grant them smart-sounding titles such as Senior Director of Financial Success or Vice President of Emerging Markets. These types see another man, also forty-something, and also White, and think, “Yes, this is someone I can trust. They look like me. They act like me. They are me.” 

This situation is changing, but not fast enough. We still define and discriminate and make decisions when defining and finding value in leaders and in making our own decisions about our leadership ability based on age, gender and ethnicity. 

We all have a bias. Moreover, we have a bias about leaders. We need to admit that if we are ever going to change our minds and the minds of those around us. 

We need to think about this and how it impacts our decisions especially when it comes to bias about those in leadership, whom we place in leadership roles, and whom we deem worthy to lead. What can we do with this awareness to combat bias to enable us as leaders?

Consider that first step: awareness. Test your awareness and assumptions about yourself and take the Implicit Association Test (IAT) on Gender-Career (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/) 

Once becoming aware that we all have bias, we can make better decisions about ourselves and others as it relates to our leadership and practice. 

References:

Eagly, Alice, et al. “Why Do So Few Women Hold Positions of Power?” Northwestern University, Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research, 8 Mar. 2016, www.ipr.northwestern.edu/news/2016/why-so-few-women-hold-positions-of-power.html.

“Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 2015.” US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sept. 2016, www.bls.gov/opub/reports/race-and-ethnicity/2015/pdf/home.pdf.

WorldatWork. “Average Age for a C-Suite Member Is 56.” WorldatWork, WorldatWork, www.worldatwork.org/workspan/articles/average-age-for-c-suite-member-is-56. Accessed Winter 2020.

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    “5 Things You Should Do To Become A Thought Leader In Your Industry” With Emily Sullivan

    by Yitzi Weiner
    Community//

    Alexandra Maia: “Why a thought leader needs to cultivate courage”

    by Yitzi Weiner
    Community//

    “The foundation of a good executive starts with being confident” with Roxanne Martinez

    by Doug C. Brown
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.